Never knowingly undersold

Cheryl Barry

Cheryl Barry

DartboardAbout a week ago, I lost out on a fair sized freelancing job because I undersold myself. I was talking to a prospective client on the phone and when the subject of my costs came up, I gave an approximate figure. There was a silence from the other end.

This I’ve come to learn is the first rule of valuing yourself: Hold firm! Don’t fill the silence!

But as the seconds ticked on, I felt the need to impress and show my efficiency so I uttered the fateful words: “Of course, I may even be able to do the work in less time and therefore my price would be X.”

Stupidly, I’d gone lower when the client was in fact expecting a higher price! The client in this case was fortunately completely honest and told me the price he would usually look to pay. It’s perhaps no coincidence that I didn’t win that work. By undervaluing myself I probably didn’t install much confidence that I could do the job to a decent standard. Luckily for me, he has taken me on for another project.

Turning work down

On a similar note, I was recently offered two regular freelancing jobs. Both blog writing for two very different clients. I thought long and hard about them before turning them both down. Why? Because it would have been a fair amount of work, commitment and in one of the cases – research into a subject matter that I didn’t know about, for not very much pay. If it was a one off job, I probably would have done it, but I didn’t want to be tied into work that takes up a lot of time for when other projects hopefully start to come in.

It’s all about getting the balance right and this is yet another tricky element of the freelancing world; weighing up whether you can afford to take on the work or afford to turn it down. There’s a risk of not knowing what’s around the next corner, but I believe you’ve got to give yourself a certain value. You’ve got to place a value on yourself and your time.

A life lesson

Surely the principle of valuing yourself isn’t just a rule for freelancing, but life in general too? Whether you’re thinking about finding a new full-time job, or even when meeting a new friend, a new partner or buying a new house. The notion still applies even if we aren’t fully aware of it. How much do we want this? How much time and effort are we prepared to put in with it? What will you get from it in the long term? How much do you value yourself?

The moral of the story

There are several lessons and I’m still getting to grips with them:

  • Know your self-worth. In terms of freelancing this means having a clear understanding in your head of your rate of pay. Whether it’s an hourly, daily or project rate.
  • There is probably more to a project than meets the eye. A brief chat with a client on the phone will only convey so much. Once you get going with a task there is likely to be more work to do such as research, admin and meetings. You need to think about these extra tasks before committing yourself and a price to a client.
  • Think about the long term and what you want. A regular freelancing gig may initially seem great, but if it’s not paying well it may later become a burden and a cross to bear.

What do you think? Freelancers do you agree with me? I’d be interested to hear your thoughts!

Image credit: Richard Matthews on Flickr


15th April 2015

Joanna Tidball

So many good points here, thank you Cheryl. I’ve been freelancing for 9 years now and these kind of questions can still cause headaches from time to time. In the early years, it was very rare for me to turn work down, but with experience you do start to develop a sense of when something isn’t right for you, whether it’s because of the fee, deadlines or other commitments.

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15th April 2015

Graeme Piper

Great post. Definite food for thought… Thanks Cheryl.

23rd April 2015

Ruth Khan

Well said, Cheryl!

Our profession is a highly-skilled one which takes time, thought and perseverence to master. There is simply no point in selling ourselves short.

In my case, I have over 26 years’ writing experience, including around 12 as a self-employed freelancer. According to a recent salary assessment on a job portal, my skills and experience should be earning me around £68k as a full time employee! As if!?!?! However, I enjoy my part time freelance work and the flexibility it allows me and which I need to care for my two young children.

I have set my rate to a level that clients who genuinely care about quality are happy to pay. I’ve also found, through sheer hard experience, that clients who nit-pick about prices and try and bat me down by £50 here and there are the ones that cause the most problems and are the least willing to pay my invoice at the end of the month.

Just remember that if a client is looking to pay peanuts, tell him/her to go and find a monkey. I’m not interested!

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